“Berlin is poor, but sexy”
As you may have guessed, Carol and I visited Berlin last weekend. Although we only stayed for two days, it made quite an impression on me. The above quote is evocative, but not completely accurate these days. However you want to describe it though, the city is anything but dull.
The trip from Hamburg to our hotel near the main train station (the Berlin Hauptbahnhof) took about 3 hours. Taking full advantage of the lack of speed limits on certain sections of the Autobahn, we pushed our little Renault rental up to 174kph, or about 108 miles per hour.
We had booked a walking tour of the city, but had about an hour to kill before it started. So in the interest of exploration we headed in the general direction of the meetup point without a clear plan. Quickly, Carol and I were exposed to the political side of Berlin. A protest against industrialized farming was just ramping up as we walked through the Platz der Republik, with signs declaring discontent with topics ranging from agribusiness to nuclear power. The crowds thickened as we made our way towards the imposing Brandenburger Tor, with large portions of the surrounding streets having been shut down to accommodate the throngs of people.
My impression of Berlin’s passion for political and social issues was further reinforced by the impromptu memorial we passed outside of the French embassy. Flowers, pencils, signs and candles festooned the sidewalk outside of the doors. One offering made a particular impression on me- a full artist’s toolkit of pencils, pens and erasers, all clearly well used but not certainly past their prime. It seemed like a sacrifice of something useful and therefore more meaningful from the previous owner.
The walking tour (when it finally started, delayed as it was by the protests), was a fun experience. Our tour guide (Johnny) was a British expat with a quick wit and encyclopedic knowledge of Berlin counterculture. The tour group itself was a diverse bunch, with visitors from the US, UK, Turkey, Israel, and New Zealand.
Johnny took us all over the city, pointing out street art and hidden bars, making restaurant recommendations and salting it all with bits of historical information. Some of the most interesting discoveries were the brass nameplates embedded in the cobblestones, the Black Mountain art project, stories behind some of the murals on the buildings, a Nazi bunker turned art collection and private residence, and the general funkiness and creativity exhibited all over the city. The whole place is marinating in history and art.
Probably my favorite place was Cassiopeia. Do you like gritty, amazing street art? What about skateboarding (street course, full 14-foot vert pipe, mini ramps and a big bowl)? Restaurants and a beer garden? How do you feel about DIY rock climbing walls, some of which are bolted (safety laws? psssssh) onto the outside of buildings? Nightclubs and music? Cassiopeia has all of this, wrapped in a kind of screw-you punk rock attitude. It was awesome.
Clearly, I was pretty infatuated with Berlin. +1 would Berlin again.